Taken From "The Egoist: An Individualist Review." Formerly "The New Freewoman."
No. 2. Vol. I. Thursday, January 15th, 1914.
IF the skill of a doctor were bespoken to effect the cure of a madman, and he proceeded to attempt the systematising of the insane ravings while giving no heed to the existence of the madness one would say there was little to choose from in soundness of mind between doctor and patient. Yet no one marvels when from all those who have a nostrum to offer as a cure for the disease of civilisation and its complications no voice is heard drawing attention to the species of sickness which is its antecedent cause. It remains nameless and unsuspected, to be indicated only by a description of its symptoms.
It begins with the failure of the self-assertive principle of the vital power: a failure of courage. Tolerated, it acts on the power of the heart and thins it out to a degree at which it is too light to retain its seat there, and forthwith mounts to the head where transmutation begins. The power of the heart, already grown virtueless and thin, distills poisonous clammy vapours which emerge from the head. As they grow denser they settle, a heavy cloud of mist about the herd. Descending, they breathe a film upon the eyes and dim the senses. Within, the heart left tenantless of power is contracted by ghostly hands -- the hands of fear. The face becomes pallid under the Thought-wreaths with the chillness of fear. The vapours become the breath of his nostrils and are breathed in as Duty and Circumspection. They penetrate each limb and fibre, inoculate with obedience and virtue. The hands fold meekly: the man walks with circumspection. He is already civilised: he awaits merely the idiosyncracy of the particular civilisation.
A civilisation is the attempted working out of a Scheme of Salvation: a plan of escape. It is the imperfect form built up from the perfected plan which the religious philosophies of the "great" "constructive" "thinkers" of its age have projected. For it is not merely that a race of men bleached white with the failure of courage would do well with a prelaid scheme of action: they refuse to move on without one. They bleat for a Deliverer- great constructive thinker-as sheep for a shepherd. Being without prescience, without inner compelling desire, they wait to be told. The great world of audiences puts out its distracted agitated tentacles, swaying about aimlessly, dumb appeals to be told how to expend themselves, and where. Culture, training in the art of spending oneself, is the imperious necessity of the bleached race, whether lettered or simple. Life without the courage for it, is so bad a business that they must needs approach it with caution. Earth is so little to their taste that they demand the construction of a heaven. To construct the "New Jerusalem," work to the plan of the Deliverer, and make a heaven on earth is a task they can put their hands to. But to live for themselves -to lose "faith"? They would as soon not live at all.
So the heads steam with fresh purpose, and the thought-wreaths mount apace: until there is enough and to spare to build Heavens without end, Hells to match and Attacking and Delivering Hosts of Thoughts to storm and defend. What the battalions shall be named and how they shall be drawn up is nobody's concern save that of the "constructive", thinker who outlines the vaporous sketch. He maps out a bold skyscape in smoke, and the civilised group themselves under whatever concept taste or convenience dictates. They follow out the scheme as a whole as they would the colour-scheme and revelries on the floor of some great hall in imitation of its painted ceiling. So are they safe: linked up with heaven. If their earthly concerns get neglected and somewhat mixed on account of conducting their affairs on a pattern pertaining strictly to a heaven of thought who is to say they would not have been more hopelessly confused had their turned their feeble temper upon them: and whatever befalls, have they not Faith-in Heaven? And does not their bemusedness give the earthly sort their chance to use them, for what they are worth?
It is the flexibility with apparently unlimited power to make adjustments according to order in human nature which the Thought-weavers work upon when rigging out their canvases. Human nature can be accorded a summary treatment quite other from that which is given to inert matter. If the Thames flows east and the Severn west "thinkers" will acknowledge and respect the stubborn tendency; but human nature must set itself to all the points of the compass if the Plan of Salvation demands it. As it can if it works to it with Goodwill. The Goodwill can in fact accomplish all things. It is therefore the base of every "constructive" scheme of thought. It is the one factor indeed which makes them thinkable. That is why it is so extolled. What system is there which does not give the palm to the goodwill: the set intention to work; to pattern. If the weavers of shadows can count on this set intention, it is enough. The result they can safely leave to the slow wearing down of habit and constant repetition. In time, with Goodwill, the "plan" will be plotted out in conduct as quantities are on squared paper to give a curve. This "plan" plotted out by Goodwill into conduct will similarly "reveal itself in our lives." The plans differ, and the "curves" of civilisations differ in consequence, hut Goodwill is the same in them all. It is the amenable teachable will: the fluttering tentacle, beating about uncertainly, charged with energy but without direction. It stands for the intention to follow if only directions are given to it- if the canvas is stretched across its sky.
The humanitarian skyscape under which we walk nowadays and which we are all expected to be "revealing in our lives" is the residue of rubbish left over after the Revolution had enabled what there was in it of egoistic temper to obtain the desired spoil under exceptionally favourable circumstances. This vapourous design is the maleficent legacy which has been bequeathed to succeeding centuries after the French bourgeoisie had acquired the sole benefits of the insurrection. The legatees have done handsomely by it, spreading it out and patching it up like old property, until now it is both neat and compact. I could be sketched out on half a sheet of notepaper and leave plenty of available space.
It demands first of course the Goodwill which is taken for granted but encouraged in well-doing by an apothesis of a sort. Goodwill is so essential that the fluttering little tentacle is elevated to the rank of the sacred, and as fraternity takes its place in the humanitarian Olympus. In the deification ceremony Godwill unequivocally asserts its intentions, and proves itself so completely at the service of the Scheme of Things and above the level of suspicion, by divorcing itself completely from its own selfish interests, cutting itself off at the very outset from the Plan's only serious rival, the natural bent of the Self. As the hymn puts it, it plumps for "None of Self and all of-the Plan." (There is no form of literature so profoundly informing as a hymn-book.) The ceremony is the formal abandonment of the Selfwill by which Goodwill becomes Goodwill in earnest as Fraternity, in which role it will reappear later in the sketch as the divine parent of Humanity. From this point all is plain sailing. To love one's neighbour as oneself: to love the Public Good, i.e., all one's neighbours put together, better than ourselves: that is the fruitful spirit in which is begotten the "more than Brotherhood," the Oneness of Humanity and the Race, when we shall "all one body be." Then shall each little one be us a limb to the great body, each well-pleased that he pleases not himself but serves the whole. The design grows. Dimension has entered into it, and with it a greater and a less: a standard of measurement therefore and a seat of authority: a scale of values which indicates automatically when a "member" offends. If the smaller frets the greater: perish the smaller or let it amend its ways. What is the greater? What can it be but Humanity, the Type, the generalisation, the thing with capitals, high conception and lofty thought. How the heads steam, and thoughts mount-rise to the "All," the "each and every" pounded out of recognition into sameness, bound together by the fraternal cement into--Man: the master-achievement to accomplish which we sink our mean differences and forget our inequalities. Has not each become equal in willingness to serve-Man. Equal then, we are: with equal "rights" to protection of our "freedom" to perform our "duties" towards-Man; receiving equal dues from a blindfolded "Justice" with even scales. The tableau grows complete: Goodwill: Fraternity: Humanity: Peace: Order: Law: Rights: Justice: Liberty: Man-the Humanitarian Heaven, so balanced and symmetrical that it requires an unregarding egoism to break into it. Unfortunately for the picture's stability, the power of Goodwill is not equal to its intentions. It is like the God of Arnold's Empedocles who "would do all things well, but some times fails in strength." When it abandons self-will to enter the empyrean of the gods, it does not annihilate it, and the "obtuse unreason of the she-intelligence" which is the temper of men whose intelligence has had strength to resist the torturings of intellectual feebleness, breaks regardless into the pretty thought tight systems, only to leave them lying in the path of history broken and awry like shattered mechanical toys. The spikes and burrs on the garment of the selfish man rip into the gossamer thought meshes which stretch like cobwebs across the field of action. It is the selfish man who reduces all the systems to inoperation: who is the despair of the "constructive" thinkers. The power to annul any and every thought-system is founded in the absence of Goodwill. The streak of self-determination cuts the selfish man off from the well-intentioned from the outset. Unless the docile temper is available to work it on to the warp of reality, the "Plan" is futile. Its beginning and end rest on the Goodwill, which will plod along like an industrious mole to "realise" the "philosophic" scheme fashionable in its day and generation. Temper, which is energy self-conscious of its direction, has plans and insight of its own: it is not amenable to direction, or to moral suasion. Instead of an intention to serve Man, its intention is to serve itself and its own soul as suits itself: it has no "standard" save its own satisfaction. It saves its soul alive by respecting it; by preventing it from being merged with the blunted characteristics into anything else-the whole or anything other. It holds by the instinct that emergence from the herd is the proof positive that it is not of the herd; that to be conscious of its emergence is its distinction and master achievement, and to maintain and accentuate it is its supreme business; to make it more and more of its "own" kind, unique; to weed out that which is alien to itself; to be "sincere" through and through; to free itself from all elements non-selfish: this is the work to which it finds it has a natural bent, and by it, it makes itself impregnable; incapable of being broken into or broken down. It is the instinct for its own permanence, its Immortality may be, which, without regard, eats up or casts out every particle of Goodwill. Hence the futility for all save the herd, of all schemes of salvation based on Goodwill, and the value which temper sets upon its antagonisms equally with its attractions. The one is as essential as the other for that light and shade in which individual differentiation finds itself clear. To be incapable of being repelled by any of the brethren is at least as much death in life as to be incapable of being attracted. Antagonism, not for what is bad for the fancy picture-the community and the race but for that which repels the something within oneself, independent of its relation to the scheme of values, is as valuable-more exciting if not as comfortable-as attraction. Oh universal brotherhood, universal love, sameness, monotony, extinction! Mankind pressing onward to Unity, swept forward as by one impulse to the bosom of the Type! Like those swine which it says somewhere, were swept into the Gadarene Sea!
Happily the nightmare lives mainly only in the picture: in reality, individuals pair off in two and threes or scrap among themselves. Universal brotherhood is mainly subscribed to by people very capable of giving the salutary cut to the simple brother foolish enough to assume that they mean it. The fact which misleads, and encourages the notion that Goodwill is more than a thought-mist for any not of the herd is the extension of the imaginative area by the wide sweep of the senses, whereby things which one sees, hears or hears of, become part of the mental landscape; and as such are subjected to efforts which would change them to our liking. One makes effort to remove unsightly features which disaffect us in those about us from a motive like that which would impel us to remove an unsightly structure which faced one's window. Not for the sake of the structure, but for the sake of our personal comfort. But with more than that no one has truck with. Any thing beyond that must be left to be indicated on the "Plan": as n is left to indicate the power of a number increased to infinity.
With the breaking of the thread of Goodwill, the humanitarian philosophy would unravel at a single pull, like a chain-stitched seam would if the right thread were seized. Humanity is robbed of its "principle" and dissolves soulless when egoists break in upon fraternity. It falls apart into its component individuals like the sand from mortar, if the cohering lime were removed. Its "progress," become the progress of a non-entity, vanishes and with it the source of authority which in its name advised and admonished individuals. What "progress" there may be, becomes a progression in the individuals themselves, which follows individuals laws, each being a law to himself. Authority gone, "protection" goes, and "rights" go with it. There are no rights without protection. Anything of "rights" which is not might is "bestowed," "permitted," and only with the protection of Authority can there be adequate bestowal and permission. Authority shattered, the only right is might-right to what one can get, that is: one's just dues. The easy assumption that one has a right to anything, livelihood, "equitable returns," comfort, liberty, or life itself shrink like phantoms in daylight. When Goodwill is gone rights can be had for the commanding-for the power to enforce them-and no cheaper.
Liberty too is impossible without protection. Liberty is nine parts coercion, and the coercion of the weak,- the only ones who make appeal for liberty-is exercised through authority. Liberty, the plaint of the feeble, is the "assumption" that the strong must stay the strength of their arm: if they refuse, authority must compel them. Of course authority and the powerful run together, as like to like; but that does not enlighten the libertarians. They still appeal that the right hand shall shackle the left: it is their trustfulness.
The tenth part of liberty is the claim to be "free." All claims are easy, but the claim to be free is easy of enforcement: which not all claims are. By the simple process of abandonment, one can be free of most things. Relatively very few persons are held captive in prisons or beleagured cities. Most can have as much freedom as they want: the truth is that they do not want it. Freedom even as a concept is negative, and the things one truly wants are positive. People are not greatly agitated by that which they desire to be rid of; It is the desire to have possession which makes their problem, and those who call out for freedom desire, not freedom, but property, and property is won and held only in virtue of the possession of power. The plaintive appeals of those who say they want liberty but who mean that they want to be presented with property and to be supported in its possession can be met only when the pathetic pleaders decide to increase their power to get and hold; or to support in power a strong authority to which they can make appeal for appropriation and protection; or to persuade the powerful already in possession to a voluntary act of grace towards the weak and non-possessing.
The second method has been tried, is being and is likely to be for some time to come; the third is the method which by common consent of all orators and clergy sounds the best: on all occasions sacred or profane: it is the method firmly believed in by all the feeble and none of the strong. It is the millenium arrived at by way of Liberty, Love and Humanity.
The first is the one the poor in spirit and pocket have no heart for; it has no friends; it dismays the rich as much as it sickens the poor, and in the long interval which is likely to elapse before it is put on its trial, the ravelling thread of the humanitarian canvas will be caught up and the array of vaporous combatants in the army of Humanity, the entire assemblage of the Delivering Hosts of Thought will wreathe themselves out like a painted battle until the real flesh and blood combat is ready to begin. The poor will continue to lay claim to rights-to look for the advent of a liberty they can never see; they will "claim" an equality with those with whom they are not equal; claim the "justice" which assumes a nonexisting equality: a justice which is not just. And as they assume their possession of "rights" in these claims, they will-being in truth a humble and indoctrinated people assume the duties to correspond, and perform the services. Their services will be accepted: the claims rejected. The quid pro quo they will obtain will be a clear title to the virtues, the reward for which is laid up in Heaven, high and away behind the Sky-scape and the stout form of Humanity.
Of the property which they want when they ask for liberty-not one jot. To get that they would require to seize and thieve, and thieving is not prescribed on the Sky-scape. Nor is it compatible with virtue when exercised on a humble scale, and who can hope they will ever rob on the noble one, generously and like gentlemen? If one of them were caught redhanded, he would be found to be smuggling away a can of milk: which is hopeless as thieving. Scarcely in our time will they need to take in and pack away the humanitarian canvas-unless indeed there is force and a sting in irony.
Taken From "The Egoist: An Individualist Review." Formerly "The New Freewoman."
No. 1. Vol. I. Thursday, January 15th, 1914.
THIS time it is hedonism. It was nominalism, has been realism, intuitionism, individualism, Socialism. Given time, and the catholicity of these pages, we shall in the opinion of one or other of our readers rehearse the entire procession of isms and schisms, whether ancient, mediaeval or modern. The compliment paid to the wealth of our erudition would no doubt be pleasant-and wholly undeserved did it not clash with our egoistic temper, which compels us to protest as to our status. Our modesty notwithstanding, we protest that we brew our own malt: we are not bottlers and retailers: we are in the wholesale and producing line of business. If our beer bears a resemblance in flavour to other brands, it is due to the similarity of taste in the makers. "Stirnerian" therefore is not the adejective fittingly to be applied to the egoism of THE EGOIST. What the appropriate term would be we can omit to state. Having said this, we do not seek to minimise the amount of Stirner which may be traced herein. The contrary rather, since having no fear that creative genius folded its wings when Stirner laid down his pen, we would gladly credit to him-unlike so many of the individualists who have enriched themselves somewhat at his hands-the full measure of his astounding creativeness. For it is not the smallness in measure of what one takes away from genius one admires which is creditable. It is a very old story the comedy of discipleship-that though the banquet of wisdow is spread and open to all-comers the number of the foolish abroad does not materially diminish. We may take from where we please, but "how much" depends on how much we can. The wealth of the feast is the affair of the hosts: capacity to take from it concerns only the guest. Since then we recognise his value, why protest that we have drawn at the stream of his creation into thimbles? We take what we can, and our capacity is not measured by thimblefuls. And because it is not, "Stirnerian egoism" has not as Mr. Meulen suggests in the correspondence columns "taken such a firm hold" of us. If that appears a paradox to our correspondent we ask him to work it out. It is really very simple and straightforward if he will bear in mind that we are very great pots and can therefore afford to be honest. So few people can.
We can now consider Mr. Meulen's dictum that "egoism is the doctrine that the motive of every human action is the pleasure of the performer." THE EGOIST is an odd quarter wherein to present a word like "Pleasure" as the main term in a definition. What is "Pleasure?" The text-books even will point out that there is a confusion: that there are concrete activities which may be called "pleasures," which however vary with person, mood and circumstances, and if insisted upon are likely to be classed as nuisances and a bore. But "Pleasure" the vague generalisation it is impossible to define. It is of the order of the static concept which have the function of tombstones among words. Tombstones, as Mr. Allan Upward points out in his illuminating "Divine Mystery," are intended to keep the spirit down: imprisoned underneath in the vault, and that is what words like "Pleasure" manage to do. They blur over with an abstract generality the positive active element in that which they pretend to name. Their only use is to create seemingly irreconcilable opposites, playing with which manages to keep the professors and scholars from swelling the ranks of the unemployed. They go in pairs: and "self-sacrifice" is the verbal opposite which nicely balance "Pleasure." Both represent mental confusion, and we suggest to Mr. Meulen the advisability of abandoning both to the exclusive use of scholars and clergymen: putting in their place the active verbal from which comes nearest to expressing what they suggest rather than what they possess of meaning.
To "please" oneself is to set one's energies moving in a channel in which they run readily and with comfort: that is a definition which for the moment will do for "Pleasure"; to sacrifice oneself is to set them on enterprises where they move reluctantly and with hardship. The motor-power in both cases comes from the self: the motive is self-satisfaction and fulfilment. Whether the issue is satisfactory or not is more or less accidental: with judgment it tends to become less rather than more. To "please oneself" and to "sacrifice oneself" are in the main, activities by the way, like the passing through roads of varying quality in the course of a long journey. A sturdy traveller will take them as they come philosophically. On occasion, the passing over a favourable tract will be undertaken and repeated solely to enjoy the ease and facility with which it can be covered: as in advance the dancers will move continuously round the floor. And on the other hand, a difficult stretch will be undertaken and repeated in order to enjoy the ultimate satisfaction at not having been defeated by its rigours: as in the more difficult feats of mountain-climbing or in any of the "tasks" of "self-sacrifice" which men will set themselves to prove they can go through with them. It is a healthy method of hardening and weathering, and great fun as long as no one is mistaken by it. Whether men are "pleasing" them selves or "sacrificing" themselves they are enjoying themselves very well indeed, particularly in the latter if they have an audience. Probably because in the long history of experience the "hardening" process makes men more fit and inclined to venture into new fields than does the lingering over the facile and comfortable, the "hardening" always wins the applause of general common-sense, and it is because of this that instead of calling itself doggedness or sport, the "hardeners" have become accustomed to get their solatium in a left-handed way by calling their form of amusement "self-sacrifice." If anyone speaks of "self-sacrifice" it is a certainty they are speaking to an audience, real or imaginary. They are getting at someone. They would call it a good old sport if they felt they were quite, quite alone.
We have of course been speaking of "pleasures" definitely entered upon as diversions and "self-sacrifice" adopted as a tonic with a strong probability of amusement in the form of applause rounding it off at the finish. Both are hobbies, off the track of life's main courses. The "self-sacrifice" which has sprung up by instinct and veined itself into the mesh of life without any thought of pleasure or an audience is not so easy to explain. Perhaps the feature which best helps to explain it is the fact that it never regards itself as "self-sacrifice." The term is applied by onlookers after the event. The "sacrifices" of love in any of its forms in the eyes of the makers of them are desires whose frustration would be resented in a degree which itself explains the sacrifice. Of the desire to alleviate suffering, and the supposed existence of goodwill we have already spoken. In relation to the former it is to be noted that sensitiveness, the form to which vital power runs, and the power to inflict suffering is curbed by the sensitiveness which makes the imagination of the suffering caused proportionately hateful. We mind our manners and our ways for our own sake. As for goodwill, it has no real existence. Sensitiveness, stupidity, and fear explain every form of its seeming appearance. The feeble or unintelligent man is ready to be persuaded into a belief that it exists because the schemes which are erected on it as a basis seem to meet his difficulties. But he is thinking of goodwill as existent not so much in himself as in the powerful: he expects them to adopt its precepts: whereas they, on the contrary, merely see in it, a happy psychology for "government by consent." The poor expect "goodwill" to give them "liberty"; the rich look to it to secure a docile serving community. In a few thousand years, after experimenting with every "constructive" scheme of government, "divine" and human, men will begin to understand that the only will existent is Self-will.
There remains the concept of chivalry: the strongest evidence to be offered in support of "self-sacrifice." If we allow the activity suggested by chivalry to emerge from under the weighty slab of the concept, it stands as the fairly habitual practice among men and women of voluntarily stepping into a position of danger in order to allow some other weaker than themselves to take up the more advantageous position. The difficulty about chivalry is that the chivalrous are at once so noble and modest that they really cannot be run through a cross-examination. One is thrown back upon one's own feebly chivalrous tendencies about which to be brutally honest. First,-perhaps foremost-on spectacular occasions at any rate, one is chivalrous because it is the tradition: one is courageous for lack of the pluck to be a coward. And then its action is not reliable: it is jumpy and at the mercy of nerves: it is not likely that there are many "heroes" who cannot conceive the possibility of making one in a stampede. "Nerves," in fact, appear to be an integral concern ("nerves" in the popular sense, that is) in chivalrous conduct. Unless caught in one's feebler moments, there is something steadying in the spectacle of distraught nerves in another person: even when they are occasioned by a danger in which both share. Terror has the appearance of being out of all proportion to the occasion, no matter how serious: and the feeling puts the situation in a new perspective. Whatever the danger is, so great a fear appears excessive. It is strange how commonplace a matter death may look upon occasion, and it is on an occasion when the terror of others has made it assume such diminished significance that the genuinely chivalrous action is performed. It is prompted by pity and a sense of superior tranquility; and the act of "sacrifice" becomes easier than the imagination of another's excessive distress. "Chivalry" becomes a question of sensitiveness therefore, which accepts the lesser of two evils. If that is not the frame of mind of "chivalry" one would like an account of it from one who is chivalrous.
The "ways of men" are complex and various, but they are not past finding out. Speaking humbly as in the presence of "constructive" thinkers, one would suggest that, observed as an artist observes and not as a moralist, they would be as explicit as the "ways of things," that it is only the overlaying by the "constructive" plan that confuses the simple self-assertive principle. Remove the plan, with its unreal labels of sins and virtues, its duties, its "oughts" and "shoulds," and the human riddle will have its chance to declare itself.
Mr. Tucker has informed us that the argument cannot proceed until we have explained something, and on looking through the issues of October Ist, November 15th and later, to find the something, we gather that Mr. Tucker "thinks that we think" it is a sign of insanity for people to "associate for mutual protection on a basis of a contract defining the protective sphere," because we said Proudhon's outline of the Social Contract with the pains and penalties attaching thereto seemed as valuable as a scheme for "building a block of flats as high as St. Paul's with lily-stalks for materials, with a prospectus describing the joys of living therein and the penalties for occupants who damaged the joinery." Well our comment implies nothing of the kind. It is as natural to make contracts-which are nothing more than mutual promises writ impressive with penalties attached-as it is for men to laugh, talk and sigh or dogs to bark. That men make promises anew in face of a world of broken promises shows how ineradicable the instinct is. But as a matter of fact we had not arrived at the point of considering whether contracts were good or bad. The theatricality of Proudhon's style with its faked matter and pompous manner rendered it impossible. One would have had to imagine oneself Cromwell refusing the crown, or Mr. Beerbohm Tree, or a poached egg, before entering into its spirit. As for the lilystalks (it is as horrible as a dental operation to have to apply a two-month-old joke) they were intended to refer to M. Proudhon's assumptions regarding human nature. We meant that the kind of people he describes never walked on earth: that they were unreal: figures with no genuine insides, stuffed out with tracts from the Church of Humanity and the Ethical Society.